2018-01-09 01:57:03
Alabama 26, Georgia 23 | Overtime: Alabama Wins National Championship With a Halftime Twist

01:57, January 09 314 0

ATLANTA — The freshman quarterback who was supposed to have a chance to lead his team to a national championship was watching from the sideline during the critical play of regulation time. The freshman quarterback who made that play, and followed it up with another gorgeous one in overtime, was not even expected to even be in the game.

Jake Fromm, Georgia’s young quarterback, played with his usual composure and skill on Monday, as many had expected. But few could have expected Tua Tagovailoa, the left-handed, true-freshman backup for Alabama, to be the hero for the Crimson Tide in the national championship game.

Tagovailoa came off the bench after halftime and led his team to a thrilling comeback victory as the Crimson Tide beat the Bulldogs, 26-23, in overtime to win its fifth national championship in the last nine years.

The Alabama dynasty continues unabated.

The decision to replace Jalen Hurts, the starting quarterback who had gone 25-2 over the past two seasons, with Tagovailoa was a bold one by Coach Nick Saban, but it provided the spark Alabama needed to win.

Yet it did not come easily, as the Tide never led until the final play of the game, in overtime. That was a perfect 41-yard spiral from Tagovailoa to DeVonta Smith, another freshman, on a second-and-26 play.

Alabama trailed by 7 points with just under four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, and faced fourth down deep in Georgia territory. But Tagovailoa threw a 7-yard touchdown pass that will most likely go down in Alabama lore.

The ball sizzled past two Georgia defenders and into the arms of wide receiver Calvin Ridley. The extra point by Andy Pappanastos tied the score, 20-20.

After Alabama’s defense forced Georgia to punt, it looked as if Tagovailoa might lead the Tide to a victory in regulation. All they needed was for Pappanastos to hit a winning field goal from 36 yards out with just a few second remaining.

But Pappanastos’s kick hooked severely wide to the left, and the Georgia fans, granted a reprieve, roared in delight and relief.

Those emotions did not last long. Georgia (13-2), which got the ball first in overtime, took a lead on Rodrigo Blankenship’s 51-yard field goal. Tagovailoa followed with perhaps the throw of the season to Smith, and Alabama (13-1) had its second title in three years. Georgia was left with a growing championship drought, having not won since the 1980 season.

The victory gave Saban, the most accomplished coach of the current era, six national titles, matching him with another legend, Bear Bryant, who won six at Alabama. Saban has five at Alabama and one at Louisiana State, and the wild victory on Monday helped ease memories of a crushing loss to Clemson in last year’s championship game.

Georgia dominated the first half, thanks in large part to Fromm. He threw for 126 yards in the first half on 11-for-23 passing and one early interception.

But the Bulldogs’ defense was even better. They held Alabama to only 94 yards in the half, the Tide’s lowest total in a half since 2008 — and 31 of those came on a single run by Hurts. For the most part, Georgia contained Hurts from getting into space and Alabama managed only four first downs to 16 for Georgia.

After Georgia forced Alabama to punt with less than 2 minutes left in the half, Fromm engineered a nine-play, 69-yard drive for a the only touchdown of the first half to make it 13-0. On first-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Fromm set up in the shotgun, but waved to the sophomore wide receiver Mecole Hardman to take his spot.

Hardman took a direct snap and ran left — virtually untouched — into the end zone.

Both teams entered the game with reputations as being strong running offenses, but in their first possessions it was almost all passing plays. And on the Bulldogs’ third offensive play of the game, Tony Brown intercepted a floating pass by Fromm, setting up Alabama in excellent field position at their own 40-yard line.

The Crimson Tide, also favoring pass over the run, marched down the field before their drive stalled at the Georgia 22-yard line. They set up for a field goal, and Pappanastos punched it through the goal posts for what seemed to be the first points of the game and a decided advantage in momentum for Alabama.

But the Tide was flagged for an illegal procedure penalty and when Pappanastos kicked it again from 5 yards farther back, he hooked it left, to the delight of the Georgia fans.

The teams reverted back to their more familiar running attacks and exchanged punts before Georgia finally went on a 14-play, 55-yard drive that resulted in points. Using 12 runs and only two passes this time, Georgia moved into field goal position and Rodrigo Blankenship converted a 41-yard field goal.

The key play, which would aggravate Saban, came on third-and-20 from the Georgia 48-yard line after Fromm was sacked for a 10-yard loss. Sony Michel took an inside handoff and scooted down the right sideline, tiptoeing 26 yards for a first down.

Saban sprinted down the sideline following the play, imploring the referee that Michel had stepped out of bounds before the first-down marker. But after the play was reviewed it was upheld and Georgia was already within Blankenship’s range.

Alabama punted after three unsuccessful plays and Georgia drove down the field for points again, continuing to confuse Alabama’s defense with a savvy mix of pass and run. Fromm made several expert passes, including a 23-yard completion on a crossing pattern by Riley Ridley.

A few plays later, Javon Wims, a senior wide receiver, made an acrobatic catch along the sideline at Alabama’s 10-yard line. Georgia was unable to score a touchdown, and for a moment Fromm looked like a freshman when he forced a pass into the teeth of the Crimson defense. But it fell incomplete and Blankenship converted another field goal.

Georgia had the advantage in kickers. But when it came to freshman quarterbacks, the edge went to Alabama, as it so often does.